Queer Eye's Thom Filicia on Big Design Mistakes and Small Apartments

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Thom Filicia; Queer Eye for the Straight Guy; Dress my Nest; Tacky House; small spaces; interior designI recently had the opportunity to chat with Thom Filicia, the interior designer made famous by his transformations of ugly bachelor pads into attractive, modern interiors for the TV show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." His design experience runs the gamut from the trendy W Hotels to Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony's New York home.

Thom has a busy schedule, between his interior design business, writing books, designing his home furnishings line, and hosting "Tacky House" and"Dress My Nest," both on the Style Network. He was still gracious enough to take time from his busy schedule to allow us to get to know him better:
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy; Thom Filicia; Carsson Cressley; interior designYou crashed onto the scene in 2003 with "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." What was your educational background and what were you doing before that transformative moment in your career?

Thom Filicia: I studied interior design at Syracuse University and interned with Parish-Hadley, then worked for them and several other top design firms until I started my own company in 1998, Thom Filicia, Inc.

How did sudden fame change your life?
It changed my life in two ways: The first was that it made travel much more interesting. I love connecting with people, and now more people than ever wanted to connect with me. The second way it changed my life was with the greater number of opportunities it afforded me. It gave me the ability to advance my company at a quicker pace than I would have been able to without the fame and recognition of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

You have been named one of House Beautiful's Top 100 American Designers, a House & Garden International Tastemaker, and you're an Emmy award winner. Out of all the awards you've won, which one is the most important to you?
It was amazing to win an Emmy, and I currently use it as a toilet paper holder in my bathroom just so I won't take myself too seriously. But I would have to say the award that is most important to me was being awarded the Everson Medal by the Everson Museum in Syracuse, N.Y. It was great to be recognized for contributing to the arts in central New York and be honored by family, friends, neighbors, professors, and colleagues for work that I am doing.

How did your home furnishings line come about?
I have been designing furniture for my high-end clients and felt there was a big gap between what is available to that market and what is available at retail, so I came up with a line to bridge the gap. These are not licensed lines, each piece was designed by me and is very connected to me; they are even named after places I've lived.

What kinds of products can people purchase under the Thom Filicia label and which market does it serve?
I have furniture, bedding, area rugs, broadloom, wall coverings, and lighting. They are for consumers who are looking for beautiful, well-made, unique furnishings that are as accessible as possible. It bridges the gap between brands such as Crate & Barrel and Baker.

What sets your line apart from all the other celebrity designer's lines?
A lot of designers simply license their name to sell products that other companies manufacture. Mine are not licensed products. These are items I personally live with, believe in, and use in my design practice. I looked at what was missing in the design market and fulfilled those needs. These pieces will add personality to one's home, rather than just be basics to fill a room.

What is the biggest mistake that people make when they decorate?
The biggest mistake people make is playing it safe. They aren't confident in their decisions so they don't explore and have fun. You don't always have to worry about being tasteful. You could have great style and drama in a dynamic home with true personality.

Do you have any advice for achieving a "designer look" without hiring a designer?Thom Filicia Style; Thom Filicia; interior design
Books are a great place to start. My book "Thom Filicia Style" gives a good foundation. Educating yourself gives you more confidence to make interesting decisions, have more fun, and take more risks. I encourage everyone to not worry about what's already been done, but create what is comfortable for you. Excite yourself. It's your home. Own it!

What design recommendations can you make specifically for city dwellers with small spaces?

Too many people make the mistake of thinking since they have a small apartment they need to buy small furniture. It is better to get just a few fabulous large pieces that you can really feel comfortable in. I would recommend a custom sofa with a great coffee table that you can double up as your dining table. Utilize the space with multi-function pieces that are relaxed and comfortable and make the small space work for you.

What do you see as the next big thing for design in general and Thom Filicia specifically?
The next big thing for design in general is wider availability of really amazing environmentally friendly furnishings with a great aesthetic that are priced within reach. Interiors will be filled with personality, telling the story of and presenting an extension of the people who live there; design with more soul. As for me, I will continue designing for private residences and hotels while expanding my reach to serve a wider demographic through my books, products, and television shows.

Barbara Green is The Design Diva and owner of Sensibly Chic Interior Design. She creates one-of-a-kind interiors that reflect your taste, lifestyle and budget. Follow her on Twitter @thedesigndiva.

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